clock menu more-arrow no yes
Hidetoshi Nishijima and Masaki Okada sit together in a bar, blue light shining on their faces, in Drive My Car Photo: Janus Films

Filed under:

Why Drive My Car deserves to win the Best Picture Oscar

The 2022 Academy Awards’ most searching character study doubles as its most ambitious film

If you buy something from a Polygon link, Vox Media may earn a commission. See our ethics statement.

The 2022 Oscars ceremony is coming up on March 27, and 10 new movies are up for the Best Picture title: Belfast, CODA, Don’t Look Up, Drive My Car, Dune, King Richard, Licorice Pizza, Nightmare Alley, The Power of the Dog, and West Side Story. Each has its strengths and weaknesses, and any of them might end up winning big. In the lead-up to the Oscars, we’re making a case for why each of them might deserve to take the big prize.


WHAT’S THE MOVIE?

Drive My Car, directed by Ryûsuke Hamaguchi from a short story by celebrated Japanese author Haruki Murakami.

WHAT’S THE STORY?

Renowned stage director Yûsuke Kafuku (Hidetoshi Nishijima) is quietly dealing with an overwhelming guilt and confusion about a series of events involving his wife Oto (Reika Kirishima). While processing these emotions alone, he leaves the Toyko area for a residency in Hiroshima, where he’s set to stage a version of Anton Chekhov’s Uncle Vanya with a multi-national cast of actors speaking different languages. When a quiet, scarred woman named Misaki (Tôko Miura) is assigned as his driver for the project, he initially resists, but he eventually forms a bond with her, and with young actor Takatsuki (Masaki Okada). As his play comes closer and closer to its premiere, all three characters start to reveal devastating secrets.

WHAT’S THE CRED?

Drive My Car was a major critics’ darling in 2021, winning Best Picture awards from the critics’ associations in New York, Los Angeles, Toronto, and Boston, as well as the National Society of Film Critics. Hamaguchi’s previous film, 2021’s Wheel of Fortune and Fantasy, was highly celebrated as well, with its three powerful emotional stories earning praise for their impeccable cinematic and narrative craft. Murakami is also a major name here — the author of The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle and 1Q84 has been widely hailed as one of this era’s greatest living novelists.

WHY SHOULD IT WIN?

Many of the other Best Picture nominees feel broader, brighter, or bolder, but Drive My Car is the year’s most ambitious nominee. It’s crafted with tremendous care that makes individual pieces stand out, from Yûsuke’s polite but clearly passionate struggles to reject Misaki without being rude to his hosts to Takatsuki’s electric Uncle Vanya audition, where he tries to impress his audience by physically intimidating and all but assaulting his shocked scene partner, without consultation or consent beforehand. But the big picture that pulls all those pieces together is the movie’s real appeal. The threads that link Yûsuke and Oto’s relationship with Takatsuki’s selfish behavior and Misaki’s thousand-yard-stare come together in a series of mesmerizing monologues that bring the rest of the film into sudden, sharp focus. It’s electrifying.

And the performances are some of the year’s best. Nishijima’s lack of affect through sex scenes, struggles with a cast confused by his directorial choices, and day-to-day interactions with his driver similarly take a while to come into focus as the behavior of a man fighting not to drown in his incalculable loss and guilt. This isn’t the kind of film that Academy Awards ceremony producers used to love, with big, screaming moments of performative drama. It’s subtle and richly considered, which makes it feel even more like a gift when the characters finally begin to reveal the things they’ve been hiding.

WHAT’S THE CATCH?

For one thing, there’s barely any precedent for non-English-language films winning Best Picture — in the nearly century-old history of the Academy Awards, only 16 non-English movies have even achieved nominations in the category, and Bong Joon-ho’s 2019 movie Parasite was the first to ever actually take the win.

For another, Drive My Car is a rarefied experience — three hours long, in a variety of languages (including Korean sign language, with one long, significant scene featuring no audible dialogue at all), and spending much of its runtime on silence, staged sequences from Uncle Vanya, long intervals where Oto makes up elaborate stories about an obsessive teenage stalker, and lengthy, hypnotic monologues. It isn’t the easiest or flashiest watch on the year’s Best Picture roster, and inevitably, some of the voters just aren’t going to give it the time and space it needs to weave its spell.

ONE GREAT THING NO ONE SHOULD MISS

Sonia Yuan and Park Yurim stand side by side in a park together in Drive My Car Photo: Janus Films

One of Yûsuke’s signature tools for his plays is having his actors speak different languages — usually languages that they don’t have in common. English-speaking viewers just reading the subtitles may miss the subtlety that some of the actors in his table read are speaking Japanese, while others are speaking Korean, Mandarin, or Filipino. (Which explains why they knock on their tables after each line — to signal the next actor that they’re done speaking.) Yûsuke doesn’t explain his purpose with the gimmick — it’s one of many things viewers will have to be patient about, and discover for themselves. But it comes to fruition in a startling outdoor rehearsal between two of his cast (played by Sonia Yuan and Park Yurim), one speaking Mandarin, the other sign language. Their quiet scene together becomes intimate and intense, and it’s a riveting moment.

WHERE DO I WATCH IT?

Drive My Car is streaming on HBO Max and is available for rental on digital platforms like Amazon and Vudu. For the other nominees, check out our streaming guide to every 2022 Oscar nominee.


The rest of the series:

Why Don’t Look Up deserves to win Best Picture
Why The Power of the Dog deserves to win Best Picture
Why West Side Story deserves to win Best Picture
Why Belfast deserves to win Best Picture
Why Nightmare Alley deserves to win Best Picture
Why King Richard deserves to win Best Picture
Why Dune deserves to win Best Picture
Why Licorice Pizza deserves to win Best Picture
Why CODA deserves to win Best Picture

Sign up for the newsletter Sign up for Patch Notes

A weekly roundup of the best things from Polygon